Despite the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the hurried pullout of US troops is unlikely to bring the needed reconciliation to the landlocked nation and may, instead, trigger an intensification of war by stirring up terrorist groups in the region.
Earlier this week, the United States announced that its withdrawal from Afghanistan was up to 20 percent complete. The official pullout of troops started on May 1 after US President Joe Biden announced the decision to end the Afghan campaign following an extensive policy review.
Biden vowed to complete the withdrawal by a date redolent with meaning for Americans – the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which sparked the notorious War on Terror declared by former President George W. Bush.
So far, the US military has removed the equivalent of 115 C-17 military transport planes of materiel out of the war-torn country and has designated over 5,000 pieces of equipment for demolition. The US has also handed over control of five military facilities to Afghan officers.
The twenty years of US military operations in Afghanistan – which were longer than those in Vietnam – did not pass unnoticed for the Afghan and American people. They resulted in the deaths of over 2,300 US soldiers and the deaths and injuries of hundreds of thousands of Afghan people.
The country is still ravaged by violence between Taliban militants and Afghan forces despite the launch of peace negotiations last September. The Afghan military continues to report on bomb blasts and its special operations against the Taliban on a regular basis.
Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative on Afghanistan Reconciliation, recently called on the warring sides to decide on a date to meet and come up with specific proposals. Turkey’s Istanbul was picked to host the Kabul-Taliban conference from April 24-May 4 at the initiative of the US.
The conference was postponed days before the scheduled kickoff due to the Taliban’s refusal to attend. The radical movement said it was reluctant to participate in any conference until all foreign troops are withdrawn. The US, in turn, says the movement is “uneven” in its compliance with the Afghan reconciliation deal by refraining from attacking US troops but engaging in a very high level of violence against local government forces.
RIPPLE EFFECT ON US EXIT
However, the pullout of coalition forces after two decades of conflict and bloodshed is unlikely to result in a complete ceasefire and end of the war, Nishank Motwani, an independent analyst, told Sputnik.
“The war will intensify, turn uglier, and drag on until the Taliban capture power in whatever ruined state is left of Kabul and other provincial capitals and districts,” he said.
The US withdrawal has a “significant symbolic value” for the Taliban since it gives the group “a proclamation of victory” as well as the signal that “the end is in sight for the Afghan republic in its current state,” Motwani believes.
“The ripple effect of an American exit will also energize radical Islamist terrorist groups in Afghanistan, the region and around the globe,” he said.
He added that apart from the Taliban, al-Qaeda [terrorist group, banned in Russia] and ISKP [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province, terrorist group, banned in Russia], will be convinced that it was them that delivered the defeat of the US in Afghanistan.
“Such terrorist organizations are unlikely to stop advancing their goals after they claim Afghanistan but will seek out new targets to defeat and capture. The consequences of President Biden’s decision to exit from Afghanistan guarantees a Taliban return, but not before sparking state collapse, a multidimensional civil war, and burning down democracy,” the analyst said.
According to him, the Taliban militants have no intention or need to compromise since Washington has shown it would not exercise any pressure and that it just seeks fast withdrawal.
RELIEF TO SOME, FEAR TO OTHERS
The withdrawal of US forces will bring two diametrically opposite effects – it will bring consolation to some but dread to others, Motwani said.
“It will bring relief to American and allied forces’ families that have seen family members deployed to Afghanistan for 20 years without any end in sight. By contrast, an American exit will amplify fears for millions of Afghans that allied themselves with the US and believed in a plural, democratic, and rights-based order for themselves and their children,” he said.
While Biden stressed that the withdrawal would not endanger national security and shows American leadership, it is doubtful that Kabul in the current situation views being abandoned as a sign of American leadership, the expert argued.
“The Taliban have hunted down with lethal precision military interpreters, journalists, bureaucrats, academics, and civil society activists, and without the US’ security anchor, there will be carnage,” he concluded.
POLITICAL SOLUTION ONLY WAY FORWARD
The decades of conflict in Afghanistan have only shown that the only way forward is a comprehensive political settlement, Abdul Hadi Jalali, co-founder and director of the Afghanistan Center for Policy Studies, told Sputnik.
“The US withdrawal of troops is entirely in-line with the previous and current US Administration’s policy, which is to end the war in Afghanistan. Continuous US administrations, leading regional countries, consecutive Afghanistan governments and even the Taliban have time and again stated that the Afghan conflict has no military solution,” Jalali said.
Pointing to the support by Washington and NATO of the ongoing Afghan peace talks, he praised the efforts of the extended Troika group – the US, Russia, China and Pakistan – as a good example of a united international and regional support to a peaceful political settlement in Afghanistan.
“The US’ ongoing diplomatic efforts of reconciliation in Afghanistan is aimed at supporting the process of reaching a comprehensive political settlement. A comprehensive political agreement will pave the way for sustainable reconciliation, peacebuilding and continued development in the country, which is unanimously supported by the regional countries,” Jalali opined.
EXPANDING MISSIONS IN EUROPE
The US pullout from Afghanistan does not, however, mean the weakening of the worldwide influence of the American military machine. In April, right when Biden announced the Afghan withdrawal plan, the country’s military declared a new air-to-air refueling mission, dubbed Operation Copper Arrow, in Europe.
The mission involves tanker aircraft, support personnel, mission planners and a logistics troop. The first maneuver took place at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, drilling a KC-135 Stratotanker military aerial refueling aircraft.
While the launch of this operation in the vicinity of Russian territory amid bilateral tensions over Ukraine might raise eyebrows, Hugo Klijn, a senior research fellow within the Security Unit of the Clingendael Institute, told Sputnik that the mission likely had nothing to do with Russia.
“Under the current tense circumstances, any new mission is likely to be criticized as an unfriendly act. I presume this operation, too, will be labeled as such by the Russian Federation,” Klijn said.
The expert suggested putting the operation into the perspective of continuously perfected US and NATO military capabilities to see it as a common undertaking by all armed forces.
Klijn noted as well that operations like that normally take a long planning cycle, so the timing was not necessarily meant to coincide with the increased tensions along the Ukrainian border or any other issues.